north west 1720

Medlock Canteen

Manchester

A neighbourhood that begins to do well for itself isn’t something that the residents will be shouting from the rooftops. This, however, is probably because they are now too busy drinking vinho verde by the glass, politely queuing for sourdough, and opening tins of anchovies. Whilst this is the norm in Islington, gentrification is rapidly expanding to other parts of the British Isles. Deansgate has been home to much experimenting over the years, but places like Medlock Canteen are here to stay.

Medlock Canteen describes itself as a modern French bistro and American diner, which at first sounds difficult to execute. But even as you walk in, it’s immediately clear: this is not your run-of-the-mill bistro. The ambience is a carefully crafted blend of urban chic and industrial nostalgia, with a sprinkling of northern charm. It feels like you’re dining in a retro-hipster dream — it’s as if Wes Anderson decided to redecorate the office of Mad Men after two of their sour strawberry sbagliatos. After all, if Bob Bob Ricard can reconcile American, Russian and French, why can’t this place offer both bottles of Burgundy as well as AM-to-PM breakfast?

The cocktail list is a work of art. Rooibos and Honey Highball, Bergamot Margarita, Cacao Old Fashioned and Mezcal Paloma. They offer the kind of drink that makes you feel cooler just by holding it, and which also happens to be executed to perfection.

Portion sizes at the Medlock Canteen aren’t just generous; they’re positively biblical

This place means business – and any establishment offering Chicken Caesar salad as a starter, on a Sunday, gets full marks from me. It arrived without any subtlety whatsoever; the plate was a Mont Blanc of romaine, grilled chicken, and, oh dear Lord, the parmesan. If cheese were currency, this dish could have paid off the national debt. The parmesan was literally overflowing, cascading down the sides like a cheesy Niagara Falls. It was as if tools like a microplane grater had finally arrived in the north of England, and someone in the kitchen had just gone a bit mad with it. The chicken was perfectly grilled, juicy and tender with just the right amount of char. The croutons were golden nuggets of crunchy perfection, basted in oil, and the dressing perfectly alliaceous without that oh-so-common vinegary note. The excess of parmesan, far from being a flaw, turned out to be the dish’s defining stroke of genius. It was a salad that sneered at calorie counters and practically begged you to embrace the decadence.

The bread-and-butter was where things got a bit odd. The bread itself was decent enough, a crusty sourdough with a pleasing chew, though perhaps sliced too thinly. The whipped cauliflower butter was light and airy, which is the combination that whipping butter often imparts, but I am not sure why anyone would flavour butter with cauliflower. And the ratio of butter to bread was bizarre — there was so much butter, you could have plastered the exposed brick wall with it, and still have some left over for the next pandemic. It was an embarrassment of riches, and while I’m not one to complain about excess, it did feel a tad wasteful.

Next up was Sunday roast beef with all the trimmings. It is worth noting that they offer a different menu on other days, and I must come back for their turkey schnitzel which is the talk of Manchester. Now, let’s be clear: portion sizes at the Medlock Canteen aren’t just generous; they’re positively biblical. This was a roast that could feed a family of four for a week, and still have leftovers for the dog. The beef was sufficiently juicy and skilfully cut – I did not need a paddling pool of gravy to make it work. The roast potatoes were little clouds of starchy joy, though not necessarily your best-ever, goose-fat, Christmas day ones (and they needn’t be).

What surprised me the most about Medlock Canteen is that it’s the antithesis to all those overpriced natural-wines-small-plates places. You know the type: low-intervention this, zero-waste that, a twist on everything, £58-a-pop for wine that tastes like it’s been fermented in a pair of old trainers, and a microscopic portion of something foraged in London Fields that you’ll need a magnifying glass to find on the plate. Although Medlock Canteen had some things in common – the trendy décor, the young and hip clientele, and the buzz of a place that’s become the latest hot spot – the wines were a revelation, and their list a brief love letter to the Old World. And even if you opted for their good, honest house red by carafe, it would complement your feast perfectly. It was the kind of claret that doesn’t put on airs or graces, but delivers solid, dependable pleasure.

Medlock Canteen offers a wonderful dining experience. Yes, there were moments of excess that bordered on the absurd, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a place that revels in its own exuberance, where the food is big, bold and unapologetically indulgent. It’s the kind of restaurant that makes you grateful to be alive and more than just a worker bee, if only to experience the sheer joy of eating.

Medlock Canteen
17/20
Food & Drink4.56
Service56
Ambience5.56
Value22
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5 Owen Street
Deansgate
Manchester
M15 4YB

July 2024

by

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